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ROAD TRIP: FOUR NIGHTS/TEN STATES/4K MILES

So Utah

If you’re stuck in your comfort “cocoon” — pretty much those of us who reside either in major cities, coastal states or other parts of this enormous melting pot, I highly suggest you get out on some of the finest highways our country has to offer.   The recent road trip to attend a Celebration of Life in Columbia, MO (the story why we drove was covered in the last post), accomplished just that.

Our route is below:  LA-St. George UT (lunch) -Limon CO (overnight) – St. Louis (overnight) – Columbia MO (service) – Kansas City MO (Gates BBQ) – Mulvane KS (overnight) – OKC (OKC Memorial) – Amarillo (The Big Texan) – Flagstaff (overnight) – Barstow (best Mexican food at Lola’s Kitchen) -LA.

When I wasn’t driving, I was posting Instagram stories (to keep from getting bored).

Random thoughts on the trip in no particular order:

  • The legal speed limit throughout much of Utah is 80 mph. That means I could go 90+ without much concern.  Most of Kansas, Arizona, Colorado, etc., is 75.  CA — what’s up??
  • There was a swing of more than 50 degrees in the course of 24 hours — from a low of 40 in the Rockies to 95+ in other parts.
  • There was an incredible display of lightening east of Denver in the pitch-black night, but almost no rain encountered.
  • Billboards prominently featured in Kansas and Missouri would create anarchy in California.  Free speech is alive and well in these states. No doubt there are folks who don’t like what they see, but I didn’t see a single billboard with graffiti or any other display of discord.
  • On the flip side of promoting the sanctity of life and religion, there are billboards advertising “adult superstores.”  Colorado has a very limited number of billboards of any type throughout the state.
  • The scenery in Utah is incredibly beautiful, having nothing to do with foliage — rather rock formations.

  • St. Louis has a fabulous baseball stadium!  Right in the heart of the city that you can walk up to.  And the diaspora of their fan base is enormous so folks come from all the surrounding states to get their baseball fix.  By the way, Missouri has the most contiguous states in the U.S. — eight of them. Blame the hubby if the math is incorrect.

  • One can work in the hotel business and not know the difference between feather and foam pillows, or which one is even offered at the hotel where they might work.  I have “extra feather pillows” as part of my hotel profile.  That’s a biggie to me.
  • Hotel rates are negotiable, especially late at night.  Do your homework, and don’t feel pressured to accept the rack rate.  Call ahead and let the desk clerk know you’re informed on the subject.
  • “The Hill” area of St. Louis has no view.  But it has all the best Italian food offered.  Go to the original Ted Drewes (on Chippewa) for frozen custard.  But be prepared to wait in line, especially after a Cards game or probably any other time.  In December, you can get frozen custard and buy your Christmas tree at Ted Drewes.

Fun stop in Kingdom City, MO
  • The road conditions immediately improve once one leaves California.  I mean like just past the state line.  It is a remarkable thing to experience.
  • Kansas somehow has managed to have a toll road on Interstate 70 — which is a federal highway.  How does that work?  Speaking of Kansas, it is the flattest place I’ve ever seen.  But Missouri has some of the most beautiful trees and agricultural fields.  Amazing.
  • Enormous bugs hit the windshield loudly and leave marks the size of half dollars.
  • There’s a stretch along the I-70 in Utah that goes for about 90 miles with no services — gas, food, etc., except for a couple of rest stops.  Be sure to watch for it and gas up beforehand!  We missed the sign.  But the hubby never let our car get below half a tank, so all was well.
  • As told to us by George Gates (with the hubby below), grandson of the founder of KC’s Gates BBQ, there are 126 different BBQ stops in KC.  All different.  This was my first trip to Gates (others previously visited: Arthur Bryant’s and Jack Stack).  I loved it.  George’s own grandson was with him.  Much of the Gates family is involved in the business (over 300 employees).  If you choose not to work at the family “shop,” that’s fine.  But don’t expect free food when you come to the stores.

 

Go big or go home (below):  At the Big Texan in Amarillo, your meal is free if you finish this 72-oz behemoth within 60 minutes.  You should also get free angioplasty if you eat that steak.

Finally, huge kudos to my hubby for meticulously providing music.  My car has satellite radio but there’s no auxiliary outlet for a music device.  So he brought over 50 CD’s for us to enjoy. Broadway, Bruno Mars, Sinatra and Big Band music plus Maroon 5 thrown in to the mix.  It was a blast — nearly 4,000 miles over 4-1/2 days.  So much fun.

Second visit to the haunting Oklahoma City Memorial. Each chair represents a life lost. Note the smaller chairs ..
The reflecting pool at the OKC Memorial
Sunrise in Flagstaff on our last day.

 

U.S. TravelWining/Dining

THANK YOU VIRGIN AIRLINES FOR THIS TRIP!

IMG_20180816_195141

What does that mean?  Virgin Airlines did everything in their power to destroy our return flight last September from Boston & Providence.  After much back and forth, a $500 credit was offered for future travel.  When I attempted to use the credit for a January trip to Houston, I found out that any travel associated with the credit had to go through Seattle — you guessed it.  Off to the PNW before the credit goes bye-bye.

Dinner view, Bellingham waterfront.

 

Not that one needs a good reason to visit the area, but we had a few besides the aforementioned credit.  First up, a long overdue visit with LA friends who relocated to Bellingham a number of years ago.  Then there’s my niece and her family — in particular my 3-year-old great niece.  Did we need to pick a weekend where the Dodgers just happened to be playing the Mariners?  Not really, but why not?  It’s always fun to visit stadiums, and our friends are serious fan(atics)s as well.

Bellingham transplants Marion & Ed, a friend of the hubby for 45 years.

Upon the recommendation of our Bellingham buddies, we reserved two nights at The Willows Inn on nearby Lummi Island, a quaint establishment with just eight accommodations.  From their website:  “Lummi Island is located in the archipelago that includes the San Juan Islands and the Gulf Islands in the Salish Sea, the waters off the coasts of the Pacific Northwest and southwest Canada.”  I didn’t fully appreciate what we were in for, except I knew we were going to splurge on their prix-fixe dinner.

Outdoor grill at The Willows Inn prepping dinner courses
Tempting lobby treats!
Love this outdoor table!

Chef/proprietor Blaine Wetzel is a disciple of Rene Redzepi of the world-renown restaurant Noma in Copenhagen.  The style of cooking and use of ingredients is based on whatever local products are available, heavily skewed to all types of seafood and every vegetable known (and some new ones) including plants, herbs and edible flowers.  Many were grilled outside and finished inside.  Our “snacks” began on the patio with a series of small bites and progressed inside for many more courses.  We finished back on the patio for a series of desserts mainly using local fruits.  It was a world-class meal in every sense.

You had me at bbq’d mussels
“Herb Tostada” — completely edible!
Braised local cabbage with charred edges. Outstanding.
The only bread offering (amazing) — with a buttery crab dip.

After dinner we went into the kitchen along with many other guests where we met the chef himself.  Our friends generously bought me his book so I wanted to get it signed.  Little did I know that head chef  Wetzel actually delivered (incognito) one of our courses!  Talk about everyone being hand’s on.  We loved hearing more background about the restaurant and having an aperitif before retiring to our room upstairs.

The only issue with the Inn’s location is the ferry that runs back and forth to the mainland — which ferry is the only access to the Inn.  The line can be oppressive, especially in the summer months.  After waiting about 30 minutes to get a morning ferry to the mainland, we called an audible, went back to the Inn and gathered our belongings and checked out.  The idea of spending up to 3 hours of this short trip waiting for the ferry just didn’t make sense so I booked modest accommodations for the night on the mainland and off we went for a spectacular day of sightseeing in Bellingham and the surrounding areas.

Ugh. Endless line for the ferry.

As a longtime suffering gardener — meaning my efforts and my yield are seriously out of balance — seeing blackberries growing literally like weeds everywhere is just a killer.  And then we went to pick blueberries.  Does anyone not love blueberries? (Mr. H, don’t answer that).  There are simply not enough adjectives to describe the abundance of berries in the area, both at Boxx Berry Farm and at a private home in Lynwood.  Literally grab a container and proceed.  The best method for picking proved to be imitating how one milks a cow (which I have never done but used my imagination).

Blueberries!
Three of us picked these.
Packed up for transporting home

We loved going to Safeco Field for two Dodger games.  The ratio of Dodger blue gear to either Mariners or other teams is at least 50/50 if not more.  Spending time with friends/fans was terrific fun.  Once more, the distinct differences between stadium food offerings in other parks compared to Dodger Stadium makes one wonder why our organization doesn’t do a better job!

Fun at Safeco Field
Dodger pitcher Rich Hill warming up pre-game.

We had a blast spending time with family and enjoying a splendid meal at Purple Cafe in the heart of downtown.  Delicious food, conversation and time well spent all adds up to a most enjoyable journey up north.

Pasta with local corn and tomatoes
Peach gallette with a side of salted caramels.
The fam: Niece Jenna, hubby Thomas and 3-1/2-yr-old gorgeous Doron
U.S. TravelWining/Dining

TEXAS HOSPITALITY FOR BIRTHDAY WEEKEND

When the opportunity arose to spend my birthday weekend with long-time Houston-based friends Kay & Fred Zeidman, the decision didn’t require much thought.  Spending time with them is always a blast (Cancun, Colorado Springs, Palm Beach, Austin and DC among past destinations), but going to their home base allowed for time spent with their kids and grandkids as well.  The suggestion of the weekend in the country was particularly enticing with new areas to experience — at least for us.

How about that Texas Hill Country (THC), y’all?  The drive time is less than four hours from Houston — southwest of Austin and northwest of San Antonio.  We stayed in Fredericksburg, which is “deep in the heart” of the THC.  In addition to local agriculture specialties of peaches and pecans, you might be surprised as I was that there are over 400 wineries in the area!


As for accommodations, I found the Fredericksburg Herb Farm offering individual cottages.  Small and quaint, the location is minutes from all the action on Main Street.  While the cottages do not come equipped with a telephone(!), there is a flatscreen T.V., large room and bath, and friendly cats belonging to the property that are only too eager to come on in.  Each cottage has its own porch swing.  Clearly it would be optimal to visit when the garden is in full swing (what place isn’t?), but there was something lovely about the winter setting.
we had some outstanding meals along the way, most of which were suggested, so for me that was a win-win!  First was Navajo Grill in Fredericksburg for an incredible burger but all-around delicious food.  The BBQ enjoyed along with excellent music (played by Austin studio musicians) and dancing (we watched) made for a fun Saturday night at Hondo’s on Main, not to mention a trip to the DQ for the perfect dessert.  Watching the planes land while dining next to the runway at the Hangar Hotel Diner was too cool, although you’d never get me up in that wind!  The pancakes were to die for …
Breakfast crowd at the Hangar Hotel Diner
Saturday night at Hondo’s
A high point of the trip was visiting the National Museum of the Pacific War aka Admiral Nimitz Museum.  The Admiral was a Fredericksburg native so it is only fitting that this museum is located in his hometown.  The replica of his eponymous battleship (SS Nimitz – still in service) is a sight to behold, providing context for just how massive the actual ship is (nearly 1,100 feet long, just shy of four football fields).  Fredericksburg may be a small town, but this museum is world class.
A small section of the incredible replica on display at the museum.

If I lived in Texas, I would take road trips just for a stop at Buc-ee’s.  To call these behemoths “convenience stores” is like calling Lake Michigan a “water feature.”  Maybe a slight overstatement, but you get my drift.  Endless gas pumps (cheap!); ridiculously clean and plentiful bathrooms; and everything else from used tires to $1,500 smokers.  We sampled a chopped bbq brisket sandwich, fresh-made chips and a drink for under $8 and it was delicious — cooked on the spot.
Everything’s bigger in Texas:  jerky (above);
gas pumps and packaged ice below
                           And then a small portion of the gift area!

 

Love my surprise Buc-ee’s t-shirt which required major subterfuge on Kay’s part! She pulled it off!

 

The not-so-wonderful find on the highway was the automobile “graveyard,” site of countless cars destroyed in Hurricane Harvey.
We also toured the devastation, largely in the Meyerland area of Houston, where home after home is abandoned and/or under construction.  Never have I counted my blessings on my birthday as I did that day.  It was stunning.
Homes are elevated to avoid a repeat of the past; endless For Sale signs; new front steps; the bayou now

 

We finished the stay with a fun dinner at Relish back in Houston (amazing fried chicken) and watched the exciting BCS game before heading out the next morning.  Great friends, great fun, great food … thankful for this great start to 2018!
Things I LoveU.S. TravelWining/Dining

NYC: GOING WITH THE FLOW IN THE SNOW!

Lucky me — back to the Big Apple again after last October’s visit (see previous post).  This time the hubby is in tow as the principal reason is a bat mitzvah celebration on his family’s side.  Of course I took the opportunity to schedule in a few fabulous meals and two Broadway shows plus an exhibit at the Met, all crammed in to four nights/three full days of non-stop action.
Never were the words “man plans and God laughs” more fitting than experiencing NYC’s second largest recorded snowfall, beginning the night before the event.  For much of the eastern seaboard, it became a series of plans changed, plans canceled, plans uncertain until the last minute, and everyone going with the flow.
Our original plan stayed in place for the first 24 hours: we checked into our hotel — The London on W. 54th.  A benefit of traveling to snowy cities are the reduced rates, plus this hotel’s location is superb for access to pretty much everything.
We landed in time to have dinner at the exquisite Le Bernardin, the flagship restaurant of Eric Ripert, garnering three Michelin stars, the 18th spot on the World’s Best List, and pretty much every other accolade out there.  The dining room is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen.  Service was impeccable but never snobby, even when I altered the chef’s recommended preparation of a dish. The four-course tasting menu is practically a bargain compared with others in this caliber .. Per Se (east coast sister to The French Laundry) used to be there but has apparently slipped (see review) and is more than twice the cost. The nearly all-female sommelier staff (6 in all) were very knowledgeable with a neatly-edited list focused on certain varieties — heavy on white and red burgundies.  I asked what percentage of patrons bring in their own wine and the answer was: “None.  It is not allowed.”  It was a spectacular meal in all aspects.  No wonder it is the toughest reservation around.
Hamachi sushi
Seafood pasta with
shaved truffles
Beautiful salad with
apple
Amazing white tuna
and waygu beef
Black walnut dessert

 

The all-white blossoms towered
in the center of the room
The Met visit included taking in the Costume Institute’s exhibit featuring international style/fashion icon Jacqueline de Ribes.  The hubby was about as interested in this as having a tooth extraction, but he makes an effort to be a willing participant for which I am grateful. What’s unique and special about this woman is her attention to detail — a dying art. Few women have the time, means and interest to concern themselves with always appearing “just so.” We live in an era of people getting on airplanes in flip-flops and tank tops. It’s not so much about the designer clothing, but rather the caring about one’s appearance which seems to be sadly diminished.  Enough said …
The gowns are timeless and look fresh
today as they did 30 years ago
The gown which she is shown wearing to a costume ball was on display
Not part of the exhibit but I was inspired to shoe shop after … Bergdorf’s still had their post-Christmas sale going on!
Friday afternoon was when the plans for Saturday and Sunday began to change so rapidly it was hard to keep up.  The bat mitzvah scheduled for Saturday late afternoon with evening party got moved to Sunday.   We made a beeline for the box office at Lincoln Center to change our Sunday matinée tickets (The King and I) to Saturday evening, plus change our nearby dinner reservation as well. So far, so good.  We informed the hotel we would be staying through Sunday instead of spending one night in Westchester and coming back to the city for a night.  No problem there.
We LOVED the hilarious Something Rotten  (second time for me) and departed the theater to a light dusting of snow as predicted late Friday evening.
Saturday morning was something entirely different as the snow was really coming down.  Nonetheless, the hubby hightailed it down to the box office to get matinée tickets (phenomenal seats!) for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (again a repeat for me) —  as even in a snowstorm Hamilton is impossible.  Not 90 minutes later as we showed up at the theater we were informed our show — and all of Broadway — was cancelled due to the weather. In fact, the entire city was shutting down save for the hotels and the restaurants within the hotels.  Hello Jonas, the blizzard of 2016.  Frankly I don’t see why so many folks had to be hugely disappointed. In some cases the tickets are next to impossible to get; people traveled long distances for special occasions that they may never have again.  The actors were already in place; you could hear people cheering as they exited the stage doors to go home. Couldn’t the productions just have a big slumber party if folks connected with the shows couldn’t access their normal means for getting home???
Snow piled up in Times Square with the
 die-hards still trying to get tix before alerted to the closings
Why the smirk?  Because in the hubby’s
native Ohio, two feet of snow is called “spring.”
 
Fortunately our dinner that evening at Nougatine was spared (cannot say the same for the hotel’s umbrella which the wind literally dismantled). This is the more casual companion eatery to Jean-Georges at Columbus Circle.  Even that was all upside down as the casual side was overwhelmed in order to accommodate hotel guests (the restaurant is in Trump International Hotel, but you-know-who had nothing to do with this!) so we were seated in the formal dining room with our choice of menus. Anything goes in the face of a blizzard..
One of my favorite
shots … perhaps the
driver needed to make a hasty retreat.
Below as we’re walking
down Central Park South back to the hotel.  I would have killed for those cross-country skis.
we had a great time with the hubby’s family, most of whom live in the northeast or Florida so these visits are regrettably less frequent. Congrats to Lauren, the bat mitvah girl, and her family. It’s not easy undoing and redoing an event for which the planning begins more than a year in advance.
With the hubby’s cousins Andrew, Nancy (mom of Lauren) and David Stone.
Below are the beautiful grounds of Elmwood Country Club in Westchester County
As for the experience of being in the “center of the storm,” we actually thought it was quite an adventure … Shout out to JetBlue for getting us home on time Monday even with all the clean up!
Things I LoveU.S. TravelWining/Dining

A BIG BIRTHDAY CELEBRATED WITH A NIGHT AWAY

I don’t know about you, but I would be very happy to have my 65th birthday (several years away!) marked by a night at the luxurious and gorgeous Ritz Carlton in Rancho Mirage (Palm Springs area) with two of my besties, who also happen to be my sisters. And so it was last month as we three marked this milestone for Margie, the first-born (sounds so much nicer than “oldest”) of the “Michaels” girls …
Here we are in the “olden” days, from
left to right in reverse order of age
Margie and I both know what it is like to be born in such close proximity to the end-of-the-year holiday season — middle of December for her and early January for me. Middle sister Janie drew late September, which occasionally intersects the Jewish holidays, but not as challenging from a planning perspective.  My suggestion was an over-nighter on the exact date which turned out to be splendid as the desert area had not yet geared up for high season.  With an Amex Platinum booking, we scored a gorgeous and large room at a great rate; the hotel had vacancies so this was the perfect time.
The reflecting pool; enormous Christmas tree and the desert in the background

 

 
Lovely (and delicious) amenity delivered to the room
Main lobby area
The biggest question was whether we hit the Desert Hills Premium Outlets (in Cabazon) on the way in or back.  The latter was the winner so we could maximize our time at the resort and take advantage of the all the niceties offered.  This property has been around for many years, but Ritz Carlton took charge a few years ago with a major re-do and it is splendid.  Who doesn’t like being greeted at the concierge with limitless candy options for a great way to start (offered noon-5pm daily!).  The gingerbread house on display — complete with the iconic Palm Springs Aerial Tram fully functional via pullies — was really impressive.  The hotel’s decor is soothing, with traditional desert colors blended in with plenty of both Christmas and Hanukkah cheer.  Their State Fare Bar & Kitchen is open all day, with very good food and service, and captures the beautiful views from nearly every table.
Well, maybe just one ….
The tram cabins went up and down via pullies
My sisters went off to enjoy the beautiful spa — I was plagued with both a bad back and vertigo, neither of which I would allow to get in the way (especially the shopping part).  We reconvened for a wonderful dinner at Roy’s near the hotel.
The restaurant’s treatment of Margie was especially attentive, with both a happy birthday message awaiting her and a delicious birthday treat.  Again, traveling during “the calm before the Christmas-New Year’s storm” proved fortuitous from a service standpoint.
“Surf & Turf”: shortrib & butterfish combo
Spicy grilled shrimp & rice
Wonderful Malbec brought
along from home
Hard to believe we had epic fights growing up — well, two of us anyway
Long forgotten!
 
As for how we fared at the outlets, well some things just aren’t meant for public consumption. Suffice to say, we did our share to help the economy. What I can share is that the outlets are among the best out there.  Not only does nearly every major “designer” brand have its own store, the other end of the pricing spectrum is there as well — Forever 21.  I’m not quite sure how that store could lower its prices more than they are normally, but they do. The mall is very well staffed, organized, clean, and welcoming.   The staff at the individual stores that we encountered were also very helpful.  I rate it “worth a look” at the very least.

 

Happy birthday once more to my big sis! 

 

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BYE, BYE 2015 … HELLO, 2016

Once again, it is time to look back on 2015 :
 
 
 
Seattle
Daytona Beach/Boynton Beach
Spain (Madrid/San Sebastian/Barcelona)
Italy (Milan)
Croatia (Split/Zadar/Dubrovnik)
Montenegro
London
Big Bear Lake
Paso Robles
New York City
Dubai/Abu Dhabi
 
and look forward to 2016:
 
Rancho Mirage
New York City 
Laguna Niguel
South Africa (Capetown/Kruger/Sabi Sand/Johannesburg)
Zimbabwe
Mauritius

 

 
Cleveland
And an island somewhere (Turks & Caicos??) in November we hope …
 
May all your travels be memorable for the right reasons … thank you for taking this journey with me!